In Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Shambhala (Sanskrit: शम्भल Śambhala, also spelled Shambala or Shamballa; Tibetan: བདེ་འབྱུང, Wylie: Bde'byung; Chinese: 香巴拉; pinyin: Xiāngbālā) is a spiritual kingdom. Shambhala is mentioned in the Kalachakra Tantra. The Bon scriptures speak of a closely related land called Tagzig Olmo Lung Ring.
The Sanskrit name is taken from the name of a city mentioned in the Hindu Puranas, probably in reference to Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh. The mythological relevance of the place originates with a prophecy in Vishnu Purana (4.24) according to which Shambhala will be the birthplace of Kalki, the next incarnation of Vishnu, who will usher in a new age (Satya Yuga); and the prophesied ruling Kingdom of Maitreya, the future Buddha.
Shambhala is ruled by the future Buddha Maitreya. The Shambhala narrative is found in the Kalachakra tantra, a text of the group of the Anuttarayoga Tantras. Kalachakra Buddhism was presumably introduced to Tibet in the 11th century, the epoch of the Tibetan Kalachakra calendar. The oldest known teachers of Kalachakra are Dolpopa Sherab Gyaltsen (d. 1361) and Buton Rinchen Drub (d. 1364).
In the narrative, King Manjuśrīkīrti is said to have been born in 159 BC and ruled over a kingdom of 300,510 followers of the Mlechha religion, some of whom worshiped the Sun. He is said to have expelled 20,000 people from his domain who clung to Surya Samadhi (solar worship) rather than convert to Kalachakra (Wheel of Time) Buddhism. After realizing these were the wisest and best of his people and how much he was in need of them, he later asked them to return and some did. Those who did not return are said to have set up the city of Shambhala. Manjuśrīkīrti initiated the preaching of the Kalachakra teachings in order to try to convert those who returned and were still under his rule. In 59 BC he abdicated his throne to his son, Puṇḍārika, and died soon afterward, entering the Sambhogakaya of Buddhahood.
The Kalachakra tantra prophesies that when the world declines into war and greed, and all is lost, the 25th Kalki king Maitreya will emerge from Shambhala, with a huge army to vanquish Dark Forces and usher in a worldwide Golden Age. This final battle is prophesied for the year 2424 or 2425 (in the 3304th year after the death of the Buddha). Thereafter, Buddhism would survive another 1,800 years.
Tibet and Tibetan Buddhism were largely unknown in the West prior to the beginning of the 20th century. The name itself, however, was reported as early as the 17th century, by way of Estêvão Cacella, the Portuguese missionary who had heard about Shambhala (transcribed as Xembala), and thought it was another name for Cathay or China. Cacella in 1627 headed to Tashilhunpo, the seat of the Panchen Lama and, discovering his mistake, returned to India.
During the late 19th century, Theosophical Society co-founder Helena Blavatsky alluded to the Shambhala myth. Blavatsky, who claimed to be in contact with a Great White Lodge of Himalayan Adepts, mentions Shambhala in several places, but without giving it especially great emphasis.
Later esoteric writers further emphasized and elaborated on the concept of a hidden land inhabited by a hidden mystic brotherhood whose members labor for the good of humanity. Alice A. Bailey claims Shamballa (her spelling) is an extra-dimensional or spiritual reality on the astral plane, a spiritual centre where the governing deity of Earth, Sanat Kumara, dwells as the highest Avatar of the Planetary Logos of Earth, and is said to be an expression of the Will of God.
Expeditions and location hypotheses
Nicholas and Helena Roerich led a 1924–1928 expedition aimed at Shambhala. They also believed that Belukha Mountain in the Altai Mountains was an entrance to Shambhala, a common belief in that region.
Inspired by Theosophical lore and several visiting Mongol lamas, Gleb Bokii, the chief Bolshevik cryptographer and one of the bosses of the Soviet secret police, along with his writer friend Alexander Barchenko, embarked on a quest for Shambhala, in an attempt to merge Kalachakra-tantra and ideas of Communism in the 1920s. Among other things, in a secret laboratory affiliated with the secret police, Bokii and Barchenko experimented with Buddhist spiritual techniques to try to find a key for engineering perfect communist human beings. They contemplated a special expedition to Inner Asia to retrieve the wisdom of Shambhala – the project fell through as a result of intrigues within the Soviet intelligence service, as well as rival efforts of the Soviet Foreign Commissariat that sent its own expedition to Tibet in 1924.
French Buddhist Alexandra David-Néel associated Shambhala with Balkh in present-day Afghanistan, also offering the Persian Sham-i-Bala, "elevated candle" as an etymology of its name. In a similar vein, the Gurdjieffian J. G. Bennett published speculation that Shambalha was Shams-i-Balkh, a Bactrian sun temple.
In popular culture
Much of the plot of Thomas Pynchon's 2006 novel, Against the Day, revolves around Shambhala, with some characters seeking an actual city by that name, a site of unique and exploitable power, and others treating it as a great figure for the transcendent.
Fullmetal Alchemist the Movie: Conqueror of Shamballa mainly takes place in an alternate version of Earth in 1923, specifically Germany. The parallel world that serves as the main setting in the Fullmetal Alchemist series is a secondary setting. Said parallel world is believed to be Shamballa by the movie's villains, a group of Nazis led by Dietlinde Eckhart (based on the historical Dietrich Eckart), who desire to open an inter-dimensional portal between the two worlds so as to harness Shamballa's technology to help Hitler take control of Germany.
Shambala also features in the 1996 Scrooge McDuck comic "The Treasure of the Ten Avatars" by Keno Don Rosa. In this comic, Scrooge McDuck, Donald Duck, and his nephews discover Shambala and try to find its treasures.
In 2012, a trilogy named 'Sambhala' was published by a Bangladeshi writer.
In Nintendo's 2019 tactical strategy game Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Shambhala exists as an extremely technologically advanced subterranean city of an ancient people called the Agarthans looking to overthrow and reclaim the surface. The player can visit and fight through Shambhala in chapters 20 and 21 in the Silver Snow and Verdant Wind routes, respectively.
In 2021, Canadian Experimental Soundscape artist "MU Simulacra" released a 12-minute track entitled "Shambhala" for his 24-hour acoustic epic Art as an Expression of Rta. The song sonically explores the inward journey of finding Shambhala as a non-spatial destination or dimension. Repetitive tones, melodies and loops that are purposely familiar yet ambiguous are utilized in order to demonstrate the effect of state of mind on interpretive processes.
- Śambhala, also Sambhala, is the name of a town between the Rathaprā and Ganges rivers, identified by some with Sambhal in Uttar Pradesh. In the Puranas, it is named as the place where Kalki, the last incarnation of Vishnu, is to appear (Monier-Williams, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, 1899).
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Hitler sent several expeditions to Tibet in the thirties, to contact the Agartha and Shambala, and apparently created quite strong ties with the Shambala [...].
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- Media related to Shambhala at Wikimedia Commons